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Smoked on the water: the eel trader reviving an old Amsterdam tradition Smoked on the water: the eel trader reviving an old Amsterdam tradition
(6 months later)
“Eeeeelll, freshly smoked eeeeelll!” These words are once again echoing along the canals of Amsterdam. Half a century after the city’s last parlevinker – or boat-based travelling salesman – dropped anchor, Bas Oosterbaan is reviving the practice.“Eeeeelll, freshly smoked eeeeelll!” These words are once again echoing along the canals of Amsterdam. Half a century after the city’s last parlevinker – or boat-based travelling salesman – dropped anchor, Bas Oosterbaan is reviving the practice.
Early every morning, the 57-year-old skewers a dozen slippery specimens and raises them above the fire to let the smoke do its work. Later he casts off and sets course along central Amsterdam’s canals in search of customers.Early every morning, the 57-year-old skewers a dozen slippery specimens and raises them above the fire to let the smoke do its work. Later he casts off and sets course along central Amsterdam’s canals in search of customers.
Oosterbaan’s eels being prepared, smoked and servedOosterbaan’s eels being prepared, smoked and served
The trick, he says, is to get their attention: a bell, his voice and loud music – classical or old-Amsterdam singalongs, depending on the neighbourhood. Almost everyone on the street looks up when Oosterbaan sails past, hollering and ringing his bell – but only real Amsterdammers buy his eels.The trick, he says, is to get their attention: a bell, his voice and loud music – classical or old-Amsterdam singalongs, depending on the neighbourhood. Almost everyone on the street looks up when Oosterbaan sails past, hollering and ringing his bell – but only real Amsterdammers buy his eels.
“Tourists don’t understand what I’m doing, let alone what I’m selling,” he explains. “Smoked eel is a typical Dutch delicacy – one of the few.”“Tourists don’t understand what I’m doing, let alone what I’m selling,” he explains. “Smoked eel is a typical Dutch delicacy – one of the few.”
Oosterbaan and his eels are a novelty – but selling from a boat on the city’s canals is not a new idea. Parlevinkers – combining two Dutch specialties: the trading spirit and water – used to be common here.Oosterbaan and his eels are a novelty – but selling from a boat on the city’s canals is not a new idea. Parlevinkers – combining two Dutch specialties: the trading spirit and water – used to be common here.
But somehow these salesmen on small boats disappeared; not just in Amsterdam, but throughout the Netherlands. The last Dutch parlevinker is thought to have sailed away in 2008 – long after the last one left Amsterdam, sometime around 1965.But somehow these salesmen on small boats disappeared; not just in Amsterdam, but throughout the Netherlands. The last Dutch parlevinker is thought to have sailed away in 2008 – long after the last one left Amsterdam, sometime around 1965.
Parlevinkers sell groceries and petrol in RotterdamParlevinkers sell groceries and petrol in Rotterdam
Oosterbaan didn’t set out to revive this historic trade. Six months ago, he had accepted a job as head of the food department at a university in Amsterdam. But he had never worked anywhere for long: he’d always get bored after a while, or get into trouble. So after a few weeks, when he was fired again, he started to question himself. In search of answers, he started to sail the lakes of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. It was here that he first got a taste for smoked eel, and began to sell a few.Oosterbaan didn’t set out to revive this historic trade. Six months ago, he had accepted a job as head of the food department at a university in Amsterdam. But he had never worked anywhere for long: he’d always get bored after a while, or get into trouble. So after a few weeks, when he was fired again, he started to question himself. In search of answers, he started to sail the lakes of Friesland, a province in the north of the Netherlands. It was here that he first got a taste for smoked eel, and began to sell a few.
Another happy customer …Another happy customer …
When someone suggested moving his business to the canals of Amsterdam, Oosterbaan, with nothing to lose, set sail. Arriving in midwinter to a city dusted with snow and ice, he found that curious Amsterdammers would flock to his boat – attracted by his singing and the smoking barrel on the stern.When someone suggested moving his business to the canals of Amsterdam, Oosterbaan, with nothing to lose, set sail. Arriving in midwinter to a city dusted with snow and ice, he found that curious Amsterdammers would flock to his boat – attracted by his singing and the smoking barrel on the stern.
Soon the snow melted and it was spring. The days became longer; the business better. Recently he was featured in the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, and even Oosterbaan can’t deny his status as some kind of local hero.Soon the snow melted and it was spring. The days became longer; the business better. Recently he was featured in the Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, and even Oosterbaan can’t deny his status as some kind of local hero.
Oosterbaan in his boat …Oosterbaan in his boat …
Amsterdammers v tourists: 'It's worst when they throw up in your plant box'
Away from Amsterdam’s crowded streets and streams of tourists, there is space on the water – and Oosterbaan and his eels may yet kickstart the rebirth of the parlevinker. There are rumours that a baker has started to sell fresh bread from a boat (though he remains under the radar because he lacks the vendor’s permits).Away from Amsterdam’s crowded streets and streams of tourists, there is space on the water – and Oosterbaan and his eels may yet kickstart the rebirth of the parlevinker. There are rumours that a baker has started to sell fresh bread from a boat (though he remains under the radar because he lacks the vendor’s permits).
As for Oosterbaan himself? He can’t stop singing. “Eeeeelll! Freshly smoked eeeeelll!”As for Oosterbaan himself? He can’t stop singing. “Eeeeelll! Freshly smoked eeeeelll!”
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